Pmf Application Essay Questions

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As you sit down to complete the online assessment, take a moment and make sure that you have the proper system and browser requirements. This is especially important for Mac users, who should complete the assessment using Internet Explorer.

To begin, applicants should select a career track, Traditional or STEM, and their qualifying discipline for that track. It is important to remember that you will only be able to choose ONE track.

The PMF online assessment has three sections:

    1. A video-based situational judgment assessment;
    2. A questionnaire designed to assess specific work styles and work-related characteristics required for success and fit in the PMF Program; and
    3. Three essay questions that are collected during the application process.

EACH SECTION IS UNTIMED AND YOU ARE FREE TO TAKE BREAKS IN BETWEEN SECTIONS. You do not have to complete the assessment in one sitting, except for the essay portion, which has to be completed all at once. As a result, we’d recommend that you read everything carefully. We live in a fast-paced world where we’re conditioned to breeze through information. Resist the temptation to skip over the instructions quickly and think you’ve got it. Take your time and understand what’s being asked of you. Since the application and assessment are untimed, there’s no need to rush.

WHILE IT IS UNTIMED, OPM TELLS YOU THAT IT COULD TAKE 1-2 HOURS TO COMPLETE THE ENTIRE APPLICATION. Take that time seriously. OPM also suggests that you do it all in one sitting. We’d second that notion as well. Block out 2-3 hours in a quiet place without interruptions so that you can focus. You’ll be glad you did it that way as you’ll end up with a stronger application.


  1. The essays have a minimum and maximum length allotted. Track your progress using your word processing software.
  2. Save your essays! You will need a copy of your essays if you move on to the Semi-Finalist round because they will be used for interview questions during the in-person assessment.

A nervous applicant might be worried that they could exit the module and lose their answers. What we found, however, was that every time you log off and log back in (which we did deliberately a few times to test this theory), it saved our work. If you’re worried about that for any reason, please see the bonus tip below.

WHEN YOU’RE DONE, YOU’RE DONE. Once you complete the video portion of the assessment and hit submit, you cannot access it again. Before hitting submit, you can start and stop, and your responses will be saved. You can also navigate forward and backward when you are in the video and questionnaire portions, BUT when you are finished responding to all of the questions and hit submit in a section, that’s it. No do overs.

While each of the above sections seems straightforward, the online assessment is most likely different from any other test you have taken. Some PMFs we surveyed about their experience were confused at the nature of the questions.

“I didn’t do any formal preparation for the online assessment. I was told by people who had experience with it that you shouldn’t try to overthink it – they said your best bet was just to answer honestly and go with your gut. All I did was make sure I set aside enough time and did it in a place I felt comfortable and could concentrate.”

– Pat Hodgens, PMF Class of 2013, Department of Labor

“Many of the questions were repeated in slightly different ways to see if you would answer consistently. It felt like I was getting everything “wrong” but realistically there was probably no wrong answer. Many had an obvious answer as well, if you are able to work well with others and perform well on the job, etc.”

– Elizabeth Fischer Laurie, PMF Class of 2011, General Services Administration

“The only thing you know for sure is that they are looking for leadership qualities. Just be honest. One of our online assessments was personality leadership. I’m not sure what it tested. We answered a lot of strange questions that you couldn’t prepare for – they weren’t knowledge-based so you just have to trust that you are a good candidate and answer those questions honestly.”

– Ashley Cassels, PMF Class of 2010, Small Business Administration

A lot of the questions were trying to determine the potential PMF’s personality. While there are no right/wrong answers, the PMF program usually tries to look for well-balanced, sociable, intelligent, flexible people with a strong work ethic and an enthusiasm for getting the job done, and being creative to do so if necessary.

Overall, the most solid advice we can give you for the online assessment is: be yourself, don’t overthink questions, and make an effort to move efficiently to get through all the questions.

“I did not do a whole lot of prep for [the online assessment]. We did receive a little practice guide that had a couple questions. I went through that multiple times. A former PMF suggested going through the LSAT practice book, so I did read through that. It was helpful to get me in that logical frame of mind. [My advice is to] just go sit in a library for an afternoon and read through the LSAT practice book to get the gist of how you’re supposed to be thinking on the logic portion of the assessment.”

– Kaleigh Emerson, PMF Class of 2010, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Advice from a Career Counselor:

What the PMF is looking for is collaborative team-builders. What they are not looking for are alpha personalities. I have seen some outstanding candidates who I knew were strong personalities get knocked out in the first round.

They are thoughtful, self-effacing people, total team players, fiercely committed to public service, patriots, and that is really what you need to be to be a PMF. You can’t make yourself into a personality that you’re not and if you think you’re a strong alpha personality, take the test and see what happens.”


Want more tips about the entire PMF Process? Download the full version of the guide here!

The guide shares advice with applicants based on interviews with current and past PMFs, career advisors, and federal agency program coordinators.


2016 PMF Application: OPEN THREAD

(Archived – 2015 PMF Application Open Thread

Archived – 2014 PMF Application Open Thread)

In a previous post, I summarized the U.S. Office of Personnel Management's Class of 2013 PMF Assessment Prep Guide, excerpting key segments of their advice and embedding the document for your convenience. They've really put together an excellent resource there and I'm impressed overall with the work of the new group that's leading the charge. Props to the PMF team.

While I am not eligible to apply (finished grad school many moons ago!), I wanted to have an even better sense of the experience of a potential PMF candidate so that I can give good advice in our forums. As a result, I spent a couple hours yesterday walking through the PMF Application and Online Assessment. Below is what I learned.

Please Note: What I share here does not in any way reveal specifics about the content of the application and assessment - only logistical considerations so that you can plan accordingly. You'll see why I am so diligent in stating this plainly based on my first recommendation.

1. What happens in the assessment stays in the assessment. Within the first couple pages, OPM asks an applicant to "certify that he or she will protect any information contained in these instruments or assessment data from release to any other party. This duty to safeguard the information contained in these documents is a continuing personal, ethical, and legal obligation that is not terminated or otherwise modified by change of jobs or employer." A candidate must sign this Non-Disclosure agreement and risks disqualification if they discuss it in any form (orally; in writing; in any internet “chat room,” message board, or forum; or otherwise). As you can see, I am heeding that agreement carefully with this blog post and I would strongly recommend that all candidates honor it as well...even to the extent of not talking at all about it with their colleagues or friends.

2. Be sure you're using the right browser. I started the application using Chrome and discovered that it was not supported by the system. The system prompted me, but OPM has also made it clear on pages 4-7 of the assessment prep guide which Operating Systems and Browsers are compatible (Hint: Internet Explorer 7/8 or Firefox 3.0 or later). I switched to the most recent version of Firefox and had no problems....but I'd hate to be coming down to the wire and realize that I needed to download the right browser to complete the application (another reason to not wait until a few hours before the deadline!).

3. Start at the very beginning (it's a very good place to start). I could not complete the application all in one sitting, so I needed to stop and start a bit. I learned that every time I logged back in, it took me to the very beginning of the application - not to the place where I left off. It's moderately annoying only because you are used to software like TurboTax which allows you to jump to the place where you left off. Just know that you will need to click through a few pages if you complete the process in stages. Don't let it stress you out.

4. Read everything carefully. I know we live in a fast-paced world where we breeze through information - especially if that information is presented in dense paragraphs. Resist the temptation to skip over the instructions quickly and think you've got it. Take your time and understand what's being asked of you. I would advise the same for each of the assessment portion (both video and questionnaire). If you watch a video or read a question and you feel like you missed something, re-watch or re-read it. The application and assessment are untimed, so there's no need to rush.

5. Are you saved or not? While I was going through the video and questionnaire assessments, there was no place that I could hit "Save." I worried that I might exit the module and lose my answers. What I found, however, was that every time I logged on and logged back in (which I did deliberately a few times to test this theory) it saved my work. If you're worried about that for any reason, please see my bonus tip below. 🙂

6. When you're done, you're done.Once I completed the video portion of the assessment, it looks like I cannot access it again. You can start and stop and your responses will be saved. You can also navigate forward and backward when you are in the video and questionnaire portions, BUT when you are finished responding to all of the questions and hit submit, that's it. No do overs. I have not finished the questionnaire, but my assumption is that it will follow the same pattern. I'll post an update on that soon...

7. Deliberate on (but don't distribute!) the essays.Over on, one of the forum questions was, "Can anyone go ahead and upload the essay prompts here? I don't have time to finish the other sections but I would like to starting thinking about the essays..." For the first part, please see #1 above. Don't do it. Don't share the essays or any other portion of the assessment with anyone. What you can do, however, is skip the online assessment and complete or contemplate the essay questions first, if you'd like.(11/10/12 UPDATE: According to a new video released yesterday, you must complete both components of the online assessment before completing the essay. The video says explicitly that you could be disqualified if you write the essays first.) What you can do - and what they recommend - is to grab the essay questions and write them in MS Word or similar, then copy and paste your answers into the module. In any case, sometimes our subconscious has a way of percolating and sparking creative answers if we have the material in the back of our minds. That might not be a bad idea to ruminate on the questions or work up a draft and sit with it a few days before submitting the application package.

BONUS: OPM tells you that it could take up to 3 hours to complete the entire application. They weren't lying. I tried to do it between my other work projects and it definitely had me at 1.5 hours without finishing the questionnaire and essays. Take that time seriously. They also suggest that you do it all in one sitting. I'd second that notion as well. Block out 2-3 hours in a quiet place without interruptions so that you can focus. You'll be glad you did it that way and I think you'll end up with a stronger application.

Get more advice and ask questions in our forums.

I would also invite you to RSVP for our online "Resume Tips for Prospective PMFs" event, happening next Tuesday, November 13 at 11a ET.


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